Hundreds of facilities are invaded from the north to the south of Lebanon’s beaches, most of which fall under the category of “illegal infringement,” and despite the fact that some of them have obtained legislative decrees from the Ministry of Works, they are described as suspicious, according to experts, as a result of their strong approval of “political interests.”
For decades, the “public marine property” file has become one of the most prominent files that reflect the extent of waste and corruption, in the opinion of many, because on the one hand it is a legacy of the “systematic robbery” operations in the civil war (1975-1989), and on the other hand it constitutes a window to recover millions of dollars. dollars wasted in the country. Read also Bale is not for all the poor… How did the collapse reverse the consumption pattern of the Lebanese?The Syrian and Lebanese pounds… a double descent into hell The Central Bank of Lebanon is studying a mechanism for repaying frozen account funds After the discovery of the drug shipment, what are the implications of the Saudi decision to prevent the entry of Lebanese agricultural products?
Infringements in numbers
The researcher in International Information Muhammad Shams El-Din returns to the text of the law that defines the scope of marine public property at the last point that the waves reach in the winter and the sand and gravel banks, and therefore “it is not permissible to sell these properties, and they can only be rented with specific controls and conditions, as if the tenant owns a property adjacent to the property.” Naval General.
During the civil war, licenses were issued allowing the occupation of large areas without a decree, and they were considered illegal, according to Shams El-Din, and “even those who obtained legal decrees recorded violations of all kinds, such as expanding their area to areas not covered by the license.”
In an interview with Al Jazeera Net, the researcher points out that the area of marine public occupancy in Lebanon is 4,897,302 square metres, including 2,365,938 licensed square metres, occupied by 73 institutions, compared to 2,531,364 unlicensed square metres, and occupied by 987. Establishment. Thus, the total number of establishments that operate marine property is 1,060, about 7% are licensed and 93% are unlicensed.
The annual revenue for occupying marine properties is about 15 billion Lebanese pounds (about 10 million dollars according to the official exchange rate ), according to Shams El-Din, who considers that this amount is very low because the estimates of marine property were low, as the tenant pays the state 0.5%. Of the value of the occupied area only, and not 5% or 10% as required by market laws, “that is, there is unfairness to the state in favor of those with influence and authority who controlled maritime property.”
As for the actual revenues of the value of operating these marine areas, “it should not be less than 120 million dollars annually.”
Shams El-Din recalls Law No. 64 issued in 2017, which requires amending and introducing taxes and fees to address the illegal occupation of marine property starting in 1994, but it seemed deficient, according to his opinion, for several considerations:
- First, the encroachments do not legally need to be addressed, but rather to be removed immediately, especially since most of the tourist establishments along the beach did not respect the laws in force, so they erected barriers and isolated the invested marine properties to prevent the free access of citizens to the sandy beach.
- Second, the official authorities suspended the deadlines for processing these infringements after they expired in October 2019, and did not put an end to the infringement owners who did not submit files for processing them, which prompted most institutions to ignore the decision to address their violations.
- Third, the settlement of fines for these encroachments on marine property, it must be from the date of their occupancy prior to 1994, “because they return to the state treasury – if it also re-settled the assessments – at least two billion dollars.”
Two years after the start of the unprecedented economic collapse (from the fall of 2019), popular demands have escalated to recover the so-called “looted funds”, especially after commercial banks took exceptional measures that led to the seizure of depositors’ money in hard currencies, and the national currency lost more than 85% of its value. As a result of the jump in the exchange rate of one dollar to record rates, from 1507 pounds to more than 13 thousand pounds recently.
And in March 2021, the Lebanese Parliament, after much pressure, passed the “law to recover funds derived from corruption,” based on the International Convention against Corruption issued by the United Nations General Assembly.
Here, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Elie Ferzli, clarifies that Parliament has fully fulfilled its duty at the level of applicability of the law to restore looted funds locally, and provided the objective conditions for it, and the problem – according to it – lies in the laws of the concerned countries to which the funds were smuggled, and each of them has procedural and banking conditions and reasons.
Al-Farzli told Al-Jazeera Net that “Parliament has created judicial references that look into the file of looted funds, provided that banking secrecy is lifted from each person who is being prosecuted based on the accusations against him.”
Al-Ferzli explains that the formation of a national anti-corruption body is the task of the government, not parliament, and that the latter has worked on approving laws related to reform issues, “as well as working on
Legalization of corruption
The academic and researcher in banking and financial laws, Sabine El Kik, considers that the decrees issued in the maritime property file reflect the crisis of “legalization” of corruption in Lebanon, which consequently hinders the recovery of funds derived from it.
In an interview with Al Jazeera Net, the researcher starts from the concept of corruption related to public funds, which are owned by the public interest or state institutions, and include all crimes related to public officials, according to Law 175/220, or those who abused their influence and exceeded the limits of their powers to benefit from public funds, through Tenders, agreements and other windows.
Cake points out that corruption crimes in Lebanon come through illicit enrichment and bribery, and they do not necessarily mean that the owner of the direct benefit that he seeks, “because the benefit may not be immediate, but rather later or postponed, especially since the crime begins with the moment of seeking to achieve it.”
Cake states that the actual corruption not only included the state treasury in Lebanese pounds, but also came through treasury bonds in foreign currencies known as the Eurobond.
Barriers to refund
Cake describes the “stolen money recovery” law as a hybrid, as it is linked to the anti-corruption authority that has not yet been formed, and does not provide the full conditions for lifting banking secrecy, so it becomes stuck there.
Cake adds other reasons that hinder the implementation of the law, including:
- First, the recovery of the looted funds is linked to the issuance of a final court ruling that criminalizes the person or entity against whom the accusation of looting of public money is charged, and it needs to be proven through a long judicial process that has not previously been completed in any of the files around which corruption suspicions in Lebanon revolve.
- Second, it is not possible to recover the looted funds without supporting the files with adequate and convincing judicial evidence for countries abroad.
- Third, even if the National Anti-Corruption Commission is formed, it faces major obstacles, as it is headed by a judge, and includes 6 members, two of whom must be on the list of honor judges at the Supreme Judicial Council, and be chosen by the Minister of Justice, and another member must be a specialist in administration nominated by the Minister of Administrative Affairs And a member of an expert in banking affairs named by the Banking Supervision Authority, which means, according to the researcher, that the composition of this body is tainted by political interference, which raises doubts about the transparency of its work.
- Fourth, the problem lies in the nature of the law for targeting funds derived from individual crimes, based on the concept of the ordinary employee, instead of holding the top of the pyramid to account for the authorities and those in charge of their oversight bodies.
Therefore, Kik believes that there is an impossibility to apply the law to recover stolen funds at the moment, when the value of the funds to be recovered has not been determined.
As for the obligatory crossing to recover the looted funds, according to the researcher’s vision, it begins with the criminal audit of the accounts of the Banque du Liban and the Ministry of Finance, and through them the path of the movement of funds appears through account statements that include budgets for more than two decades, “otherwise, the law will remain ink on paper.”